Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blogorama: Snowpocalypse Edition

We had another eight inches of snow dumped on us today, thus foiling my plans to see the new Park Chan-Wook film this afternoon. In the interim, I thought I'd do some housekeeping. First off: I've been nominated for a Lammy, without any campaigning on my part. Someone out there must like me, which makes me giddy. So if you are eligible to vote, take a look at my coverage of True/False and decide whether that deserves an award. Thank you for your support. For details, click the lamb:

Second: I haven't done a blogathon in a while, so it's high time I rectified that. I've got two of them coming up. The first one, coming in a little over a week, is the annual White Elephant movie exchange. I've got my movie. It's...not as merciful as my past films have been. Check back on April Fool's Day to find out how much pain I'm in for and take a look at White Elephant Central for other similarly buffaloed victims.

The other blogathon I have coming up is The Terrorthon, a look at classic, pre-1980s horror movies. This is right up my alley, and I've already picked the movies I'm going to write about. This one will run April 20th-24th. It's run by Page over at My Love of Old Hollywood. Check it out.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Road Not Taken

Somewhere in the middle of Gun Hill Road (2011, directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green), my viewing companion commented: "No way she survives this movie." The scene we were watching involved a young transsexual girl who was buying black market hormones from an older trans woman. After the transaction, the older woman asked her if she'd like to be "pumped?" Both my friend and I flinched at that. "Pumping," for those who aren't immersed in trans culture, is the practice of injecting silicone into areas of the body in order to give them a more feminine shape, usually the ass and hips, but sometimes the breasts and face. This is a profoundly dangerous practice, since the silicone that is often used is not medical silicone. Sometimes, as in this film, it comes from a caulk gun. Seriously. A cisgender audience is likely to react with horror and disgust at such a practice, even if they succumb to the freakshow attraction of it. Why would someone do that? Both my friend and I are trans, though, and I think we both understand the desperation gender dysphoria instills in trans people. The desperation and the poverty and the pressure to conform to beauty norms. My reaction to this movie is largely personal, so you'll have to pardon me when I wonder what I might have done to myself had hormone therapy not reshaped my body to my satisfaction. Don't get me wrong: there's still horror. We've both seen the results of pumping gone wrong, but we're both reasonably educated and possessed of white privilege. The character in Gun Hill Road, though? She's from a completely different cultural paradigm.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Curse of Netflix Roulette: Starship Troopers 3

A friend of mine asked me when I was going to do another Netflix Roulette post. He seemed disappointed when I told him that I was likely going to retire the roulette posts. Not because I don't enjoy doing them--nothing of the sort. The problem is Netflix itself. Some time last year, they changed the interface on their streaming pages to a kind of infinite scroll, the kind so popular with social applications. This makes it kind of difficult to determine the range of numbers for the random number generator. Deliberately picking films from the streaming array seems like cheating. The randomness is the point. Somewhere along the line I had the bright idea of playing roulette with my Roku interface. That's a standard list of fifty movies per category. This is manageable. So this morning, I gave it a try. I used the science fiction and fantasy row rather than the horror row to reduce the chances that I'd get a result that I've already seen, and the randomizer gave me Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008, directed by Edward Neumeier). Oof.

Friday, March 08, 2013

True/False 2013 Day Four: The Only Band that Matters

There's always an awareness of politics in the selections at True/False. Non-fiction filmmakers are practically the only muckrakers left in a media landscape dominated by corporate control or authoritarian hegemony, so any documentary festival is going to program its share of political fire bombs. The first film I saw at True/False this year was Dirty Wars, one such fire bomb. It seems only fitting to me that the final two films I saw were almost as incendiary.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

True/False 2013, Day Four: Punch Drunk Love

I missed my chance to see Cutie and the Boxer on Saturday. It was a late show and I needed to get home to let my dogs out. I was also exhausted. Self-care is important for getting through the grind of a film festival. So I skipped out on my scheduled showing and queued up for the Sunday showing. This did two things for me. First, it put me in much more comfortable seats. My scheduled viewing was at the venue with the most uncomfortable seats which sounds petty, but after sitting through fourteen movies at that point, this was not to be discounted. Second, it freed up some time for me to squeeze in one more movie than I had scheduled. I had heard some buzz from my festival friends about Cutie and the Boxer and it sounded more fun than the film I was scheduled to see. In retrospect, I'm glad I made the choice to see it. It was a charming, funny movie.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

True/False 2013, Day Four: Promises

The films I saw on day four of True/False this year were mostly political in one degree or another. Of the five, only one could be said to be apolitical. I suspect that True/False is thought of as a left-leaning festival, perhaps in the spirit of Stephen Colbert's famous pronouncement that "facts have a well-known liberal bias," but I don't think films are picked with that specifically in mind. Columbia is at the center of a very red state, after all.

Some subject matter attracts strong feelings. While it's uncommon for the films at True/False to attract demonstrators, it does happen once in a while. After Tiller, a big hit at Sundance, attracted the inevitable anti-choice demonstrators at True/False. I don't think anybody who lives here is surprised by that. Drive by Planned Parenthood on any given day and you'll see them there, too. They are persistent. For what it's worth, I didn't see After Tiller. I don't know whether or not the people handing out flyers at Pandora's Promise, a pro-nuclear power essay, could be categorized as demonstrators. They didn't have signs and they didn't shout at people, but they did want to make sure that their countervailing point of view was available to everyone entering the theater. I doubt these people share the same ideology as the protestors at After Tiller.

My last day of True/False this year was a frenzy to get as many films under my belt as I could. I think it's only physically possible to see five films on any given day of the festival, and I maxed that on Sunday. The first two films I saw were the aforementioned Pandora's Promise and Who Is Dayani Cristal?, two films that are similar to each other only in so far as they represent broken or unfulfilled promises.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

True/False 2013 Day 3: Standing in the Shadows

Day three of True/False was probably the most pleasant day of the festival for me. Part of this is because all of my screenings were at the Missouri Theater, an old-style movie palace that has been restored since the early days of True/False. It makes a huge difference when you see any movie in an audience as large as the Missouri Theater audiences. The Missouri seats 1200 people and it was absolutely packed all weekend. It also has the most comfortable seats of any True/False venue. This was not something to sneeze at, given the number of movies I was sitting through. My ass was thankful for the respite. My favorite place to sit in most theaters is in center of the second or third row. The nice thing about this is that most people don't like sitting so close, so I usually had my choice of seats if I got there in time.

The two other films I saw on Saturday were The Gatekeepers and Twenty Feet From Stardom, both of which are about people who work in the shadows.

True/False 2013, Day 3: Fish and Chips

When I was writing about last year's True/False, I mentioned that the films here tend to rhyme each other. Themes emerge from groupings of films. Among this year's key themes are matters of the relationship between the people and power, between human beings and animals, and the potential of art to speak truth to power. Multiple films run along these axes. The films I saw on day three all resonated with other films. Blackfish, for instance, would make a fine double feature with Leviathan or The Moo Man, while The Gatekeepers covers some of the same issues as Sleepless Nights. This sort of thing happens every year. I used to think that this was an intentional result of how the festival is curated, but it's not. When I was screening films, those same kinds of thematic echoes emerged from the slush pile. It just happens. It's the zeitgeist.

My day three opened with two films that to my eye seem distantly related, but maybe only because of their proximity to each other at the festival:

Monday, March 04, 2013

True/False 2013, Day Two: Crashing and Burning

One of the difficulties anyone who writes about True/False has is the practice of "Secret Screenings." These are films that, for one reason or another, cannot be publicized. Often, they are contracted to debut at other festivals. Sometimes, they are films that aren't quite ready for prime time for some other reason. Either way, the festival asks that attendees not write about or tweet or discuss these films on social media, and I'll honor that. The Secret Screenings are sometimes a crapshoot, anyway. This is the part of the fest with the highest likelihood of me not liking the movie, and, in truth, that has happened to me at every T/F I've attended where I saw Secret Screenings. I don't feel bad about not being able to write about these movies because contrary to what people often think about film writers, I don't actually enjoy slagging movies. I want the movies I see to be good. I want small films, especially, to succeed. Of course, many of them aren't good and don't succeed. The flip side of the Secret Screenings is when I hit a real gem of a movie. That happens, too, and I'd love to write about these and champion them. This is the dilemma I'm facing this weekend, unfortunately. If I had any brains at all, I'd skip the Secret Screenings all together and focus on movies I can actually write about.

In any event, Friday's viewings were a mixed bag.

Friday, March 01, 2013

True/False 2013, Day One: Traveler's Tales

The True/False film festival especially values films that question the very nature of truth and fiction. It's right there in the name of the festival, of course, but you don't really begin to get a feel for this until you've sat through a couple of years of festivals. This predilection for films of and about epistemological murk is surely the reason that Sarah Polley's new film, a documentary about the nature of her family, was chosen to open the proceedings this year. Stories We Tell (2012) has an instinctive grasp of the shaky nature of truth. It's a film that embraces the Rashomon effect. And, it turns out, the filmmakers aren't to be trusted to tell the truth with the camera itself. At first, the film seems like a repurposing of Polley's home movies. There's a bunch of interview material with the various members of Polley's family and the form of the film takes a familiar shape: interviews plus archival materials. The subject of the interviews is Polley's mother and the circumstances of her parentage, which is perceived differently by her siblings, her father, and the people who knew her mother. But Polley is crafty here. The archival material, the footage that looks to be old 8mm home movies, is faked. Her mother is played in a lot of this footage by an actress. This is a film about film as much as it is about family secrets. The signature image is of Polley herself pointing a camera at the camera. There is no fourth wall here. The screen is permeable and the reality on the screen flows easily into the reality beyond the screen and vice versa.